After 15 days of practice and competition, 12 races, 73 hours of racing and over 4,500 metres of descending in three weeks, Crankworx Summer Series wrapped up its invite-only tour of B.C. on Friday.
Finn Iles and Vaea Verbeeck walk away as the series champions after consistent riding across disciplines in enduro, downhill and dual slalom races. The two had slightly different approaches to the final round.
Verbeeck and van Steenbergen share Sun Peaks Air DH podium
Vaea Verbecck rolled into Summer Series as the reigning Queen of Crankworx. The Coldstream, B.C.-based racer was intent on defending that crown right through Friday’s final race. Verbeeck clinched the women’s overall title with the days fastest time and, with one more win, the ultimate victory lap.
“It’s really sweet,” said Verbeeck, who earned seven first places finishes over the course of the series. “I love Air Downhill. So as much as I just wanted to enjoy it and not overcook it with the pedalling, because I’m too tired to want to give out so much energy right now, at the same time it’s hard not to. It’s just such a fun event to push on.”
Sun Peaks’ Air DH rand down the 3.5km jump trail, Steam Shovel.
“It’s quite long,” said Verbeeck of Fridays race course. “At the same time thankfully there’s only one or two sections where you’re actually cranking pedals. The rest is just gravity-fighting, berms, and that’s the challenge I really enjoy and I don’t mind if it’s longer. The pedalling is the hard part. So thankfully, there was one or two bits like that, and the rest of it was really fun.”
Next to Verbeeck on the top podium step, her partner in life and bikes, Bas van Steenbergen.
“It’s so good to finish it off with a win,” said van Steenbergen. “I figured it’d be a good track for me. It’s pretty technical and scrubby, so, yeah, I was definitely going for it on that one.”
Van Steenbergen started Summer Series with a win in the Air DH at SilverStar.
“It’s more extra motivation than anything, that I know that I can win if I put it together,” he said of the pressure to perform.
Van Steenbergen’s Air DH locked down his second place in the Summer Series overall, behind Finn Iles. Having already secured his series title mid-week, Iles took a full victory lap down the Air DH course, focusing on style over speed.
Verner scores third overall with Air DH podium
Behind van Steenbergen, Squamish enduro racer Rhys Verner nabbed the second podium spot.
“It feels awesome,” said Verner. “This event was one I wasn’t overly confident in, but I’m pumped. I pedalled hard, hit corners pretty good. And yeah, it was pretty close I think – two, three, four were super tight. I’m pumped to come out on top of all of that.”
The result nets Verner third place overall in the three-week Crankworx series.
“It’s pretty awesome. It makes me feel pretty good that I can succeed in any discipline. Being able to run with the best and stay consistent felt like something I needed. I’ve had injuries in the past so, yeah, it felt awesome to be able to push and stay consistent.”
Melamed lands third, but pays the price
Jesse Melamed squeezed into the final podium spot. Less than a second behind Verner, but only a tenth of a second ahead of fourth-place Kasper Woolley, it was tight racing for the medals.
“I think I’m the most stoked for this one,” said Melamed, who also took second in the Sun Peaks Enduro, and won the Kicking Horse DH last week. “Jumps and berms…I grew up racing XC, I don’t have those skills, and I’ve really been trying. This has kind of proven that all the scary moments of practicing have been worth it. To be within three seconds of Bas is amazing, because he’s obviously the King of Air Downhill.”
Racer’s always have to sacrifice something for their sport. For Melamed this week, that sacrifice was his race pants.
“Well, they’ve been ripping all three weeks,” he said after crossing the finish line with a large rip in the rear of his pants. “When you’re scrubbing jumps you get really off the back, and I’ve probably got too short legs for 29er wheels. So I keep buzzing my ass with my tire. I thought ‘They’re really going to go, and it’s going to be dangerous.” And it happened on the biker cross section. I scrubbed a jump and ripped my pants, but it actually took the material, so it stopped me, and I dead-sailored. Thankfully saved it.”
“Was that the buzzing I heard?” chimed in photographer Chris Pilling who was shooting on course.
“Yeah,” laughed Melamed.
Rest and next steps for tires racers
After months away from racing followed by three intense weeks on the bike, racers are looking forward to a break. Uncertain schedules, though, made for mixed emotions after crossing the final finish line.
“We were just joking that we might go into a bit of a depression,” said Miranda Miller. Squamish’s downhill world champion, Miller rode consistently across the series, standing on nine podiums. “We’re going to get up and put our knee pads on and then realize there’s no races to go to. But I think it’ll be nice to chill for a bit.”
“I think what I really liked was riding and spending more time with all the women from B.C.,” she said of her favourite part of the series. “I feel like the past couple years ALN and I have got to ride together because of Enduro, but that means Casey and I don’t get to ride together as much. So it was really cool to do all these different events. I was pretty bad at Dual Slalom the first race, and then everyone was just getting better, better, better. It was kind of cool to do that with everyone and talk through the tracks with people. It felt way more like you were working on everything together, as opposed to competing against each other. Which is rare.”
Verbeeck shared the same sentiment, saying her standout memory from the three-week intensive series was Wednesday’s final Dual Slalom at Sun Peaks.
“Seeing people that only focus on a discipline like Enduro or Downhill, and third week in, seeing them crush it in the start gate and just picking up news skills. Sharing progress with other people is kind of the highlight. It’s fun to better yourself, but to share it with other people is even better.”